Caracas, Venezuela | AFP | Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro ordered the army to conduct a round of military drills later this month in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat of military action in the crisis-stricken nation.
Maduro’s embattled government — facing a deepening economic emergency and swelling street protests — has seized on Trump’s apparent threat, which has been roundly condemned even by Latin American states opposed to the socialist president.
Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino called Trump’s comments “crazy,” saying it showed America had “dropped its mask” in terms of wanting to attack his country.
Maduro told a crowd of supporters in Caracas on Monday that he had organised a round of military drills for August 26-27 in response.
“I have given the order to the armed forces’ joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defense of the Venezuelan nation,” he said.
Trump said on Friday that the US was mulling a range of options against Venezuela, “including a possible military option if necessary.”
His words have bolstered Caracas’s oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of its proven oil reserves, the largest in the world.
The Pentagon said it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who is touring allies in Latin America to marshall joint action against Caracas, said Trump’s warning stood — but he hoped a “peaceable solution” would be found.
– ‘Yankee go home!’ –
Supporters of Maduro, who has been in power since the death of the revolutionary socialist Hugo Chavez in 2013, packed the streets of Caracas Monday in a show of support for the beleaguered leader.
The crowd chanted “Yankee go home!” as participants waved banners emblazoned with the slogan: “Trump out”.
Maduro vowed to defend his country “with tanks, planes and missiles.”
Venezuela, an ally to Cuba and Russia, reportedly bought Russian anti-aircraft defenses and tanks years ago under Chavez.